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Can the Denver Broncos rely on Case Keenum for the long term?

It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2018. Today it’s the Denver Broncos.

Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph had himself quite the inaugural season. No quarterback, a decent running back and an underachieving defense. In 2017, the Broncos defense was ranked third in yardage, but 22nd in points against. They also were second to last in turnover differential. Who beat them for the worst? None other than the winless Cleveland Browns.

There’s only so much that side of the ball can do, especially when you have Trevor Simeon and Brock Osweiler starting at quarterback on the other. The 3-1 start was promising, but the eight-game losing streak following didn’t bode well for the Broncos’ new coach. Denver’s offense finished 27th in points scored and not scoring points makes it very difficult to win football games.

Many wondered if Joseph was a one and done coach, but instead the Broncos fired several coaching assistants including special teams coach Brock Olivo and promoted Bill Musgrave to offensive coordinator. Considering Musgrave’s last stint as OC was with rival Oakland Raiders, this could get very interesting.

Then they went and got Case Keenum. With the quarterback position all but figured out (for now) and the defenses’ lone significant loss being Aqib Talib, the Broncos could be back in the playoff picture. The drafting of Bradley Chubb certainly helps and makes that pass rush one to be feared.

Draft picks

Round 1: Bradley Chubb (LB)
Round 2: Courtland Sutton (WR)
Round 3: Royce Freeman (RB)
Round 3: Isaac Yiadom (CB)
Round 4: Josey Jewell (LB)
Round 4: DaeSean Hamilton (WR)
Round 5: Troy Fumagalli (TE)
Round 6: Sam Jones (G)
Round 6: Keishawn Bierria (LB)
Round 7: David Williams (RB)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Case Keenum (QB)
Clinton McDonald (DE)

Case Keenum was the third-string quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, but was quickly elevated to starting status after Sam Bradford went down. Keenum didn't’ let anyone come close to taking the job from him and finished with the second best quarterback rating in the league.

The question is if Keenum can repeat his 2017 season. He had an awful, awful showing in what could have been the biggest game of his life, the NFC Championship. You can hope this is chalked up to experience and he can work with the solid Broncos receiving corps.

As far as the draft, the Broncos made a lot of right moves. Chubb fell to them in the first round, letting the rich get richer. From there, Courtland Sutton, and DaeSean Hamilton were drafted for pass-catching roles. Demaryius Thomas is approaching the wrong side of 30, and Sutton very well could be their new No. 1 with development. He can work with Thomas in 2018 and the Broncos can evaluate at season’s end.

They also got guys to run the ball. While the obvious release of C.J. Anderson was to save money (he got 1,007 yards in 2017, a lone bright spot for the team), it’s still a head scratcher given his production. Either way, they got two new running backs in his place and put Devontae Booker on notice. Royce Freeman was a star out at Oregon, but injuries hurt him his senior year. I think he’s someone that if given the right offensive line, he could be special. David Williams seems to be a flier in case Freeman (or Booker) don’t pull their weight.

Overall, the Broncos are looking to the future with this draft. Besides Chubb, it seems like these guys are expected to develop and not product numbers immediately. In a year, I see this draft class producing in a big way.

Way too early gambling line

49ers -4.5

The matchup

The Broncos defense is still scary as ever, and it might be even scarier with Bradley Chubb joining the chaos. The 49ers get the team late in the season, in Santa Clara, so if the 49ers have momentum and a playoff bid, this defense could provide the perfect test to them going into the playoffs. Or stand in their way from doing as such.

It will all ride on Case Keenum. The Broncos offense is in no way bad, and part of the reason I think those draft picks will be developing will be because the offense as a whole has a good unit. I don’t like throwing blame solely on the quarterback, but the Broncos quarterback situation was atrocious enough that their production can be blamed on the signal caller. When C.J. Anderson is managing 1,000 yards and aging wide receivers are getting open as a result—that’s either a coaching problem or a quarterback problem and the Broncos decided it was both. Still, this isn’t the Vikings, it’s a different offense and a slight step down, Keenum not only has to learn a new system (which should be second nature to him by now given all the stops he’s made around the league) but deal with what might be a step down in talent—this is of course arguable.

Given some of the coaching witnessed last year, and despite everything done in the offseason, I can’t see Joseph getting a win in Santa Clara from this squad, mostly because I just don’t have faith in Joseph as a head coach. His defense in Miami was not that impressive (go watch the Miami Dolphin’s playoff game in 2016) and while the Broncos offense is not bad, it has two aging wide receivers with a quarterback who needs pieces around him that might not be those two. The Broncos are on the way back to being a contender and Keenum may be there for the long haul.

But not this year. 49ers win late.